Tuesday, April 24, 2018

Thinking in Isolation


Grey day this one.  Looking at my exercise monitor have walked about five miles already.  Not bad for my age.

Funny thing is that as a university student I would have walked probably twice this distance each day.  Back then I did not have the luxury of a cellphone to talk to someone about this and that as I trod across campus.  The Walkman and its progeny the MP3 player and then the iPod were years in the future.  What I got was my thoughts and the ambient sounds of traffic and pedestrians and clarion bells peeling the fifteen-minute quadrants of the daylight hours. 

When I walked for twenty to twenty-five minutes five or six times a day my mind stayed focused.  When is my next exam?  So was that “We’ll see” from her more of a yes than a no about the John Hartford concert at the Kiva tomorrow.  I need to pick up a pack of cigarettes. If I swing by the library will I get back to the cafeteria in time to get some of the first-choice entrée at dinner tonight.

Yes, most of my thoughts were run of the mill and mundane. Still, I thought about them each individually and in some detail.  Without the constant stream of external noise from podcasts and people needed to/wanting to talk on the phone I could unpack all the baggage around a single idea. I could weigh and balance with some time to do it with justice, the things I was facing.

But there were moments. Like the time that I got riotously involved in the classroom discussion about defining oneself to different people.  I mean one day your communication professor told me that it was okay to present different views of myself to different people and that everybody did it.  The variation in my presentation was simply a matter of degree. How liberating as I thought about the implications of that. More importantly I though about it from all sorts of angles.

Or maybe I had read an article about living in daylight rooms.  The author urging us to clear out our minds of the resentments from the day past and live each day with openness and awareness of what I would be letting into your life.  Some self-help groups have concepts like that but to hear it from someone credentialed in a magazine I trusted, well that was something else. Without the tiny little computer, we call a phone, that is in virtually everyone’s hand I had to think about it and then I had to talk about it around the dinner meal.

Now I have headphones when I walk, but half the time I leave them off.  Half the time I just focus on the things of the heart and the things of the mind.  I am worried that we now have a generation wired to the ephemeral, tethered to the right now of gossip, pun making, and punditry as opposed to the be here, be now mantra of various faiths. How will they ever learn to think critically.

Life is change.  I hope the next evolutionary cycle brings up back to giving ourselves time for reflection and thought. Life is walking in silence and thinking.

Monday, April 23, 2018

Merton and Merwin


On a normal day when I find myself somewhat lost my inclination is to read some Thomas Merton. At this moment, currently I feel a little lost.  Meaning, the meaning of life is eluding me right now.  A dose of Merton would help.  When the late monk talked about saying mass alone in his hermitage and noticing the light playing off the spider web by a window, there was a joy in the simplest and most holy parts of existence.  The light playing off simple silk explained eternity far better than any philosopher’s musing. Merton’s writing has a way of putting human angst in its place.

But I am in a winding up mindset and I have been emptying out my office of all things personal.  About the only things left that reflect “me” are two photographs, one with my late brothers and one with the school board I once was a part of.  There is an admission certificate to the Delaware State Bar.  A set of five Buddhist prayer flags is tacked up on what used to be a bulletin board.  Finally, there is a copy of a book of poetry from a former United States Poet Laureate, W.S. Merwin.

Merwin does not address the holy and divine as Merton does.  But they have similar threads in their respective work.  Merwin focuses on the transient, the beauty of the fleeting.  Merwin is a Buddhist seeking a way forward toward enlightenment.  Merton is a mystic seeking the closest connection with an articulated nature of God.  Merton acknowledges the limitations of this life we live but has a greater hope, a higher hope. Lacking Merton, I must turn to Merwin.

Dew Light

Now in the blessed days of more and less
when the news about time is that each day
there is less of it I know none of that
as I walk out through the early garden
only the day and I are here with no
before or after and the dew looks up
without a number or a present age

Who needs meaning?  There is now and then there isn’t. 

Saturday, April 21, 2018

Men Talking on a Cold Winter Night

February is relentlessly dark in this northern town.  Grey skies intermittently spit snow. Arctic cold fronts spew horribly strong winds at bitterly numbing temperatures. In this cold city you need to know where the warm places are. This taproom was one of the warmest and most welcoming he knew.
In the middle of the block, on a thoroughfare not yet totally gentrified, stands the Bedford Arms Ballroom. “Ballroom” is a misnomer, the place was a tavern of the highest order plain and simple. Three stories tall the first two floors of this public house are spacious.  Often crowded with bodies you never notice the cold once inside.
Interlaced bricks precisely aligned face forward. The façade is elegant. Traditional Ontario yellow bricks line up row upon row. Even viewed from across the busy thoroughfare which abuts the Bedford, you can clearly see the tap was constructed in the mid-1800s. An elegant dowager the Bedford is a clear presence on a street that had grown to become one of the city’s main thoroughfares.
Dark grey smoked windows face the street bearing the stylized name, “Bedford Arms.” Emblazoned on the glass and writ large each letter is crafted with all the curlicues and extra strokes needed to show a real connection to the gilded age.  Smell of beer poured, stored and soaked from spills into the oak floors mingle with the scents of stews and curries. The place carries itself with a frayed elegance and joie de vivre.
The Bedford stays busy.  14 taps of microbrews bring in the crowds.  10 pool tables up a half flight of stairs behind the bar, in a space edged with an ornate wood railing also help.  But maybe it is the plentiful co-eds from the university across the avenue who act as honey for the prowling men beasts that keep the place so lively.  Maybe all of the above coupled with the pub’s good and fairly priced food is why the public rooms are most always packed. Two dollars and some change still buys a cup of decent meaty chili here.
Wearing their workday suits ties loosed the duo had talked out all their business and most of their small talk at the bar. Feet on the rail among the bustle and boisterousness of a Thursday night student bar night the conversation had gone one for better than an hour.  Around them appreciated by them as eye candy groups of twenty-somethings from the university hung in the front rooms. This is nothing if not a meat market. In fashions de jour with au courant styled coifs the youth quipped and parried. These sexually charged bar denizens ran their well-polished lines and stratagems on members of the opposite sex (mostly).  Each and every one of them was doing their best to not be alone in the sheets in a frigid student flat come morning light.
Watching the goings on, and occasionally affixing a label to one of the cons being played out by some studly young man on some buxom lass, the pair had talked through all their business.  Settling up for their bar tab, they had consumed a couple flights of microbrews and some bruschetta, the two ordered some very old scotch neat and carried it back to a very small room.
Having been around so long the taproom had been tweaked many times over the years.  In the back a warren of small rooms had been added to allow for small groups to conduct their private business in a quieter environment. They picked one of the smallest rooms probably because the chairs were soft and were almost certainly calling their names. A small gas fireplace was in the center of the room.  The fire within was warm and welcoming.
Tonight’s evening was clearly near an end.  They sat in those overstuffed chairs and enjoyed their drinks. Last call was imminent but probably didn’t matter. Contrary to a student’s routine of drinking the good booze first and then shifting to the cheap shit (when taste didn’t really matter but the buzz did), these two old friends were drinking the superior stuff at the end. Good scotch was their dessert.  
The room in which they found themselves had flocked dark wallpaper, it was a small cozy space.  You could barely hear the clack of pool balls from the adjoining suite. Sipping Lagavulin and savoring the smoky peat taste of the Islay they both seemed to be looking away from the current moment into a point miles beyond.  He had always loved these moments spent at the end of a day with a dear friend. It was one of the true joys of growing older.
All night despite the jokes and jibes he had sensed an undercurrent of discomfort.  The older man had tried to fathom out what was the concern hidden in the background.  Years before when he had first started out in the trade his boss had offered a maxim about what caused things to get troubled, to go sideways as it were.  “Booze, babes or bets, these cause all our troubles.” When you adapted his old Cro-Magnon’s master’s sexist term “babes” into a gender neutral noun the adage seemed to hold true even in this much changed world. He senses one of these might be in play. Troubling him was the absence of clues from which to make a guess as to which one exactly.  In the public room the conversation was strictly tied to the business at hand. Maybe now that they were out of the public eye, something would shake loose.
When the liquor was seeping into their systems the darkened room’s flickering fireplace light had the effect he had hoped for.  His younger friend had finally let go. The younger man had held his turmoil tight within a gripped hand. How did the phrase float out?  “Have you ever been tempted?” or was it “You have been married for a long time was there ever a time you felt that it wasn’t enough.” Both meant the same thing. Right now the person sitting in the other chair was on a boundary line. He was trying to decide if putting a pinky, a mere pinky, on the “other” side of the border was going to be a problem.  Was it going to be the marital equivalent of the shooting of Archduke Franz Ferdinand or was it somehow permissible by the unwritten rules of social convention? To the entire outside world the younger man and his wife had a most stable loving relationship.
Hearing his younger friend’s query he understood what was in play quite clearly.  His friend was conducting a risk assessment. He knew that for some that stroll outside the garden wall was a one way walk into a completely different world.  Consequences could follow that would be really, really quite serious. Some poor souls merely opened the gate and the whole shebang just came tumbling down. On the other hand some people just floated over the fence and back keeping their mouths shut and never being discovered.  
The older man had been to that border himself but he didn’t talk about it much.  He knew both the costs and the reasons for being there at the edge. Sometimes salt loses its flavor.  Sometimes the light dims in the world two people occupy. Sometimes the joint ride that is marriage becomes so repetitive that your soul seems to be weighed down.  Some have described the emotional state they moved you to the edge as drowning.
He knew well other things can turn a head.  Sometimes it is just that sparks fly when you move into the orbit of a firebrand. Sometimes it is just fucking bug lust when both of you know it is wrong. Hell maybe that other person will know a new trick that when executed will cross your eyes and cause the beads of perspiration to roll.  A well placed tongue has been known to make that edge of accepted life downright porous.
To craft a response to his friend wasn’t easy.  No two cases are alike. Each dalliance carries the promise of joy but all carry with them the seeds of potential destruction.
He looked at the face in the chair beside him, “You know these lives we live are built on sand nothing more and nothing less.  Our worlds are quite fragile things really. Our day to day life is gossamer illusion. From the day they teach us to keep score we build worlds that we share with others stacking expected experiences on each other  brick upon brick. We move forward checking the “to dos” off a master list, job, marriage, car, kids, vacation home and so on.”
“Still those who share our path be it spouse or a child they are never really part of us.  While not us they are woven into our lives like part of a fine silk brocade. But pierce that fine illusion with a harsh action or pull on a silk thread with some jagged reality and it all falls apart. What remains is not very pretty. In that we are dealing with human beings there isn’t physical wreckage on the ground, instead there is pain, deep dark pain.”
He continued, “Somewhere long ago you realized that you had a soul.  You became aware that you wanted to craft something out of the time you have between the forceps and the stone.  Maybe the path was easy for you at first, or so it seemed. But one day you opened your eyes and you realized that some part of your soul had been caged.  And suddenly you also realized that the time flying by was no longer your friend. Right then you knew something had to change and mentally you began to walk to the edge of your known world.  Suddenly there is danger. Suddenly there is passion. Suddenly everything is hard to understand or contain. Scary isn’t it?”
Stopping he sipped the old ancient scotch whiskey.  He needed to decide where to take this next. What words would be the right words in this situation? His experience wouldn’t be everyone’s experience.  His choices would not be the right choices for two out of three people. Looking into the fire through the amber whisky in his glass he knew why this place would always be part of his memories.  It gave you space to think.
Resting the whisky on the chairs arm he began to speak again.  “I have reached that point in my life where stoicism makes sense to me.  Trust me I still would love to have the taste of new pussy on my tongue. Hell I am sure there is someone out there that could fuck these old bones in a way that would send shivers to places I have forgotten I have.  Also I have heard there is no longer hair down there. But to what end? Life is very short all in all and the choices we make don’t make a bit of difference in the grand cosmic scheme of things. I am almost certain that humanity will die out and we will leave this third rock from the sun quite barren, perhaps sooner than later.”
“What I am saying is that all we have is our actions to measure our worth against. It might not mean much in the end but it is something.  Who we have treated ill means something to our souls in the end. What goals we have chased also means something in the end. I guess what I am saying is that you have to look inside and see who you. You then got to consider the cost of your next step to your soul.”’
His friend looked at him in a questioning manner.  The question even in this dark light was clear what have you done in this situation? Again his answer had to be carefully crafted and offered.
A little more whiskey would be needed before he spoke.  Had it been any other friend he might have lied. But they had seen too much together.  They had worked hard together. They had cried together. They had opened their souls to each other.  This one required truth but a careful truth.
“Did you ever listen to Dylan while you were at university?” He posed the question without making eye contact.  “Bobby Dylan was a whole bunch of things to a whole bunch of people but at the very minimum he was an amazing poet.  So many of his words are like little totally on-point haiku. If you listen carefully you can work ‘em around in your mind.  One lyric that always has stayed with me was from his song Dirge. The words go, ‘I went out on Lower Broadway and I felt that place within, that hollow place where martyrs weep and angels play with sin.’  Having an affair is something that. An affair can leave ashes and carnage all over the place. The aftermath can be a hollow place of weeping when the sin of the angle is discovered”
Stroking his near empty glass he continued, “But oh there are times when our bodies and minds ache for something.  Even if everything in our lives seems fine things just happen. From out of nowhere unexpected and unanticipated sparks arise.  Suddenly there comes electricity, compulsion, desire, passion and those most basic urges. In fever heat these drive us to moments where despite our logical brain screaming “no, no, no,” we cross the line.  Our better angels are almost inexorably drawn to “play with sin”. It can come on like a gale from out of nowhere washing over us causing turmoil and danger only to be gone a few moments later. On the other hand it can be a sustained blow that we cannot resist or avoid.”
The gas fireplace’s glow gave him focus.  The warmth was comforting. He mused a bit and then realized that his glass was empty.  He spied a side table and he walked over to it and put the glass down. Returning to his chair he rested on the arm and looked at his friend.  His friend’s head was pointed down gazing into the fire. The light in the room flickered golden.
Quietly he spoke, “No matter what you do here you are not the first to travel this path.  But please know there are consequences. If you are discovered you marriage, your life, your finances and the lives of you children and spouse will be about as upset as any apple cart can be.  You if found out will never be able to put the world you live in now back together.”
He gazed at his friend. Well he actually gazed at his friend’s hairline because that head had remained fixed forward looking far and away into the light. It had barely moved the entire time he was speaking. He straightened up a bit and let a little air escape over his lips.  He in the softest of tones proceeded, “But even if you are not discovered and you do everything right in carrying on this assignation there are consequences. I mean even assuming there are no stray scents or hairs to give you away you will be changed. Even if there are no photos ever taken your personality will be amended.  One can only hope you will never run into mutual friends of your spouse leaving the place of your tryst. But even if the affair is short lived and never discovered there will be a change in you, in your soul or heart.”
“Keith Richard has the lyric for this one, ‘faith has been broken; it is a dull aching pain’.  His friend shifted in the chair but the speaker did not dare make eye contact because he did not want to chance that his friend might be able to see what was churning in his own soul right now.  “You will be different when it is done. You may have longing and loss. The flame that you fanned may leave an empty space in your soul that will forever change your relationship with those around you. Melancholy is close but it is not the right word.”
He looked down and then said, “You may feel dirty afterward, like you have gotten away with something and it may nag at you for years.  But then again, maybe not. For some people a clandestine coupling is a release, a satisfaction of a need or a culmination that acts a reaffirmation of who they are.  If both parties know the rules this is possible. Hell maybe you will even find your true soul mate although I doubt that.”
Having looked over at his empty glass and feeling the glow of the scotch fading he contemplated one more drink and then decided against it.  “My friend the path you are travelling is well worn ground. Think about what you get out of this carefully. Weigh the risks. The path you take is yours alone.”  With that he grew quiet and his mind wandered to a place where the scent of Opium perfume mixed with the aroma one smells in passionate moments. In his mind’s eye the autumn light threw a warm glow on the naked full form of a beautiful woman not his wife.  There in that image she was clutching a sheet so as to cover most of her form save her right breast. Catching his gaze she smiled at him. And just as quickly the image was gone.
His friend never returned to the subject.  There were no follow up questions. Instead they talked a little bit more about banal things such as the likelihood of getting a cab at this hour and whether the snow might have stopped.  But no real conversation followed his soliloquy. And with that last call having now passed the lights came up and they shuffled to the entranceway and departed.

On the ride home that night he would return to the image of the woman in the sheets more than once.  And when the melancholy began to fill his heart he would look out the cab window and let the street scenes distract him.

Thursday, April 19, 2018

You Will Have Regrets

As I sit here a lunatic squirrel is just going chuck, chuck, snort, chuck in the tree behind me.  An odd bird is tweeting out a sound that to my worsening hearing sounds like water falling over rocks on a mountains edge.  The squirrel is hidden in the tree and I have no idea why I am aggravating him (or her).

These are good sounds.  They are not television.  They are not angry people.  They are of the world around me.  After days of rain the grass is as green as it is ever going to get.  Mosquitoes are starting to come out. But it is 8:44 p.m. and there is plenty of light in the sky.

I have taken this moment to write.  Over the past few days moments for real writing have been few and far between. On occasion as I walk in I will grab a snapshot of a door or a goofy car and I will post that to Facebook.  I will add a little bit of commentary.  Facebook posts are not writing.  Facebook posts are like saying hello as you pass someone in the hallway.

A walnut just wailed down upon the deck.  Damn squirrels. 

In this moment of golden late afternoon/coming evening I want to write about what is in my heart.  But what is in my heart has been buried so deep for so long I wonder if it still exists.  A long time ago there was an electricity that would arc when I thought of the scent of watermelon and of full red lips. A long time ago I could draw a picture of the naked form of the first woman I ever really loved from memory.  But time and hiding away those feelings have dulled the passion.

Life goes on and for some the passion will always be there.  I think of artists who keep working into their eighties and into their nineties.  Maturity was seen in those later works for sure, but the thread of red hot passion never left the images.  Poets as they grow older write poems that are more complex, but the raging heart is still at the core. I must recapture some of this lightning in a bottle.  My hand must raise up into the sky daring the jolt to pass through me.

Are there regrets in living?
Why of course there are my dear.
But are the regrets so great as to be unbearable?
Only if you make them so,
Only if you give them such weight.

And we must bear the weight of those lives 
That as the years have passed have attached themselves to ours
And from which entanglements there are no easy extrications.

And we must bear the weight of our heart’s desires, 
Of our passions not yet dead,
Of our dreams perceived only at the edges 
When we lie closest to being awake in late eve or early morn,
That bother us like fever.

And we must bear the weight of frustrations,
At not having more control,
At not having made things better,
At not having reached out and grabbed the golden apple 
That “they” have always told us we were capable of.

Are there regrets?
Of course there are silly.
But if you take the time to ponder on these things
Your heart will lead you to where you must go.
Regret comes with living and as long as you live
You can balance out regret with joy remembered.

Melodious Chord of Loss


Take me back to the start.  Take me away from this walk.  Mood blue and quiet, my steps were yielding easily to a strong emotional gravity that afternoon.  The day was nondescript, if my memory served me right the sky outside was cloudy and grey.
Earlier a slight smell of Patchouli had been in the air as I moved past the tree of life bedspread. It was rumpled, the bed more made than unmade.  Still it was more or less covering the twin bed in that narrow room.  Softly my footfalls drew me toward the door and out.  The age of the hippie was already in the past despite these vestigial trappings.  That age one that spoke of love and of accommodation would be nothing but a memory soon. 
Traversing the short distance to the door my ear picked up strains of a new song from the next new big thing, that bisexual pop phenom from Britain, David Bowie.  "There's a panic in Detroit, he looked a lot like Che Gueverra….".  
Looking back and down the hall that was all this apartment really was I could somewhat sense I was leaving for the last time. Nothing was certain but we were both young then and mobile.  No chains of obligations bound us in space to a specific locale, not yet at least. No regrets really, not yet.  Consciously I did not realize how much the few times I had spent here in this 750 square feet had changed my life. Today I know in a dispassionate way. It has taken years to get here.
Is there a purpose to this all?  Are we chess pieces for the battle between God and the Devil, pawns in a more metaphysical battle between good and evil? Is the question even worth asking?  When you are 19 and walking out the door of the first real love of your life these issues don't matter.  Hormones and unrefined emotions overrule any focus on meaning and value.
In my my mind I told myself better days are coming.  Nayh I didn't think that as I pulled the white painted wood framed door closed behind me.  I was just going.  My soul was empty. My mind was empty. The anger was gone.  The rage had washed over me and was gone like a spring storm.  Breath, walk, breath just go.  
In the back of my mind I wondered if she would remember me when all was said and done.  When she was doing something simple a decade later, would I cross her mind?  Maybe she would be putting on an old blouse and notice a loose button.  Wondering at first, then maybe a smile of recognition and she might remember how I struggled to gain access to her lovely breasts after an evening at the wine bars all those many years ago.
Do men and woman have these kinds of feelings in common?  Do we all want to leave a mark on the hearts that have touched us?  Is it a compulsive need to feel that our worth will be validated?  I don't know.  Maybe for some people the contact means much more than for other.  Me I have never been able to separate the person that the face I remember represents from the fuck.  Despite Erica Jong I have never been able to detach my emotions to the level of "casual" sex, to enjoy the zipless fuck.
Walking down the sidewalk I wasn't making the kind of journey that is made immortal in ballads.  No last train was about to depart.  No snow was falling.  I was simply walking down the street to a bus and then to a subway.  This was not a sepia toned memory captured in a fading mental photograph.  It was just a departure.
Life was lighter then.  No suitcase, not even a kit bag, all I had was a dark burnt orange Jansport backpack.  If my toothbrush and deodorant were in the outer pocket my life needs were handled.  To leave her given the layout of that odd apartment I had to pass through the bedroom to the front door.  Guessed I was leaving some things behind as a glance over to the dresser revealed some change that had been in my pocket the night before and a ticket stub from a concert a few months back.  It was a Dead show back when they played small halls and new music still was in the pipeline. Wow, it really was a long time ago.
Looking at the pictures on the wall I realized how much they how could to mean to me.  A poster for the Beaux Arts Ball  still remains in my memory.  The theme that year was the Sacred and the Profane.  That phrase seemed to mark the two spheres of my psyche.  A pastel picture hanging crooked on that wall that depicted  a wheat field in golden late summer sunlight with the sky's blues bleeding toward night made me homesick for a time that was once mine.  Looking into that picture and I was making a trip when I was eight years old.  It was a trip in the back seat of my parents' car that I had made a hundred times or more.  It was a  trip measured by looking up from the back seat at tree tops and knowing exactly where I was.  Reaching for the door I did not know where I was or where I was going.  
Beyond the first couple of stages of the trip nothing much was set.  At some point I would be at the onramp to a freeway with a thumb out.  If I had come up with a plan I might have a piece of cardboard with a destination spelled out in 5 or 10 inch letters on it.  I might even paper clip a five spot to communicate clearly I was in for sharing expenses.
There was no use in shedding tears. This wasn't a departure with shouting.
I loved her but that hadn't helped at all. I would have done almost anything for her.  The waves of events rolled over me; there was the deferral of my personal desires and the focus on her goals and dreams.  The seconds dripped off my hands, off my finger tips as I waiting patiently for her choice of whether she could make a commitment to me as strong as the one I was willing to make for her.  Long as a Russian winter the time passed but still there was no sign of a decision.  It was time to go.
Now was the time to leave this town.  The moment had slipped away.  Did we do it on purpose or had the days just stripped it away and out of our control?  If we had talked more would it have been different?  A hand placed in another hand.  A hour spent together just talking with no focus no agenda, would that have changed things?  What about a sharing meaningless secrets, would any of it have altered the path that lead to this hallway, that lead to this door, that lead to this sidewalk and to the distance?
In the end we had to do the things that mattered.  Good byes and thanks seemed so hollow. I had to go, no destination just movement forward. Breath, walk, breath.
Perhaps there would come a time of second grace for us, I thought.  In maturity with cellos in a rich festival hall we might meet with hands extended and no emotional memory of what we had been done to each other.  As we waited for the concert it would be almost as if we were sitting in the sun of the first days of our long past romance. Sunday's on the beach with smuggled red wines lingering on the palette.  
Why were we already so weary? Why was this were the story had to end? 
At the end of that day I was waiting by the entrance to the highway heading west.  It is hard to hitch a ride westbound at the end of the day.  In the late day light the sun is in a driver's eyes.   As a result all of the cars seemd focused on the road.  A hitchhiker is weightless and ephemeral in the blinding rays of western sunlight. Only an angel's intervention would take me away and offer me some comfort as the loneliness really began to come on.
My leaving her is in my mind a small art house movie, a melodrama.  Camera angles are tight and the feel of the scenes is claustrophobic.  Close up of faces now drained of emotions fill the screen talking heads rambling on about things that anyone watching know don't matter. So what if you are going to visit your aunt.  So what if my shoes are worn too far out to be much more than a Platonic notion of what a shoe should be.  Scream about what's wrong.  The audience wants it.  But we don't have the guts to play this scene out this way. If this movie could have a theme it would be a piano repetitively striking a soft melodious chord.  It would be a plaintive sound crying out for the next step up in the melodic sequence that would turn this repetition into a song. But the result won't be that easy for the audience.  Nothing in this is easy.  The chord just repeats and fades and then it is gone.  
Then I hear it coming now from far away. Among the drone of all the others hell-bent on getting home before the last food is gone, the last person is in bed, the last light is turned out someone is coming for me. I don't know the make of the car because it is almost dark, but I can hear its wheels and its transmission are slowing. At this spot and at this time there can be no other reason for the change in the sound except that the driver is willing to take a chance and pick up a stranger. This car will be the 16 hour drive to where I want to be.  Come on, come on stop, stop now.  Really there is just as much danger for a hitchhiker as there is for a driver, come on I will take the chance if you will.  

On the highway headlight after headlight passes and we are on and into the night. The hours will slip away.  What is next I don't know, but the place it will happen is not here.  Not anymore.

Wednesday, April 4, 2018

April 4, 2018/April 4, 1968




Fifty years ago, in the early evening of a Thursday I was at home.  Eleven years old I sat watching TV.  My parents were out.  My guess is that mom was at the Lady Rebekah’s and my dad was at an Oddfellows meeting.  I was watching some program, maybe Bewitched when the scroll began across the bottom of the screen. 

In 1968 we knew well the scroll.  On a black and white TV, the scroll was a gray shaded band with contrasting letters that carried news of great importance across the bottom inch of the screen. Disasters and crisis moments were highlighted by the scroll. The scroll was often a stalling tactic while ABC, NBC and CBS got their news staffs into the studio to begin an ad hoc broadcast based on whatever they could confirm by phone and wire. 

On that spring Thursday night, the scroll at the bottom of the screen announced that Martin Luther King, Jr., had been shot.  Quickly the scroll changed to announce that Dr. King had been killed. Once Dr. King’s death was confirmed the scroll disappeared. Every network broke into their primetime programs with coverage of the Noble laureate’s death.  

On that day the world changed, America changed.  A gunman with a scope took down the hopes of so many who had wanted American to move forward toward a non-racial progressive democracy.  An angry man afraid of losing his privileges, those that belonged to him because of his membership card of white skin, killed a dark-skinned preacher whose life had been focused on nonviolent but seismic change.

Cities burned in the aftermath of the wanton killing of that man of peace.  In the fear spawned that summer we lost focus on what really mattered.  We for forgot or let slide the concept of equality.  Simple truths, easy to be spoken but hard make reality, became seemingly unobtainable. One person is entitled to equal rights under the law.  One person is entitled to live where they desire and can afford not where they are steered.  One person is entitled to be judged on the merits of their skill and knowledge and not historically biased perceptions of what “their people” were like. Visible marks of difference such as skin color, sex and traditional garb need to be ignored. 

We never got our footing back in the march for a better world.  We Americans threw in with a new law and order regime.  Seemingly we accepted that the silent majority wanted stability more than anything else.  As a result, instead of getting visionaries like Dr. King we got instead a President who flaunts his ethnocentric bias saying things like, ““They’re bringing drugs. They’re bringing crime. They’re rapists. And some, I assume, are good people,” about the Mexican people.  We are led by a man who refuses to acknowledge the dark racial component of white supremacy present in Charlottesville.

There are choices we will have to make again and again going forward to promote equality and justice for all.  Standing up for the right thing will probably get us pilloried by both the hard left and the hard right.  But even an old soul like me knows that if we don’t stand up and say no more to laws and procedures designed to disenfranchise the different and the poor, the ideals of what America is and what it should be will die just like Dr. King did.  Hate swings with a vengeance.  We must be prepared to fight, and we must be prepared to take the body blows that speaking truth to power will bring. We must stay focused and stay strong.

Saturday, March 31, 2018

Breath In, Breath Out; It is not as Simple as we Would Want it to Be.


“One of the disadvantages of school and learning, he thought dreamily, was that the mind seemed to have the tendency to see and represent all things as though they were flat and had only two dimensions. This, somehow, seemed to render all matters of intellect shallow and worthless...”
Hermann Hesse, Narcissus and Goldmund

 

Intellectual pursuit need not be dry and sleep inducing.  Just because rigor and logic are applied to the matters of the world, to the matters of life, does not mean that we cannot just simply experience things that bring joy and delight.  We are capable of duality.  When we see sunlight falling through the trees in a park onto a grassy clearing, we can joyfully experience it as a green space of solitude and warmth.  We can purely see a place to set out a blanket on the ground and to open a picnic basket.

 

We don’t have to see a question of why the trees were located there and whether their roots give off chemicals to prevents other trees from growing between them.  We don’t have to speculate of the genus and species of the grass and why it flourishes in this copse of trees.  We don’t have to think about the carbon/oxygen transition ratio that the trees engage in and whether they in a day take care of our carbon footprint.  Some days are days for analysis and some days are just for sitting down with cold fried chicken on an old blanket. Some days are just for drinking a glass of wine.

 

In my life I have known people who analyze everything including how you say hello to them.  You remember the old stand up bit don’t you where in call and response fashion the comedian says, “Good morning, eh?”.  He then adopts another voice and says, “What do you mean by that?” Sometimes such people just seem lost in an internal chess game that will not end until they die.

 

On the other hand, I have known people who smoked pot, drank beer and slept around until their bodies gave out.  These were good people, nice people but people for whom the phrase, “The road goes on forever, and the party never ends,” was a mantra. These lives were lived in just a shallow and meaningless manner as that of those who over intellectualize.

 

Life requires balance sometimes one must do the hard-cold math.  Other times one must accept and simply be without opinion or judgment. Book learning is fine and gives us the tools to live in organized society, a group of people fighting for higher achievement and freedom from the vagaries of nature’s randomness. But simply being in place in the world is required too.  The issue will always remain how to balance both.  Extremes either way can create a shallow and hollow place of being.